I have written about this basic topic on numerous occasions but I keep getting asked related questions in new ways. Toward the end of last year someone asked what was the most important reason for arts organizations to embrace community engagement: economic viability or cultural justice.
Before I try to address the question, let me summarize the basic points.
- The first is that due to rapidly increasing costs, demographic shifts in the population, and ever greater competition for leisure time and dollars (to name just three factors), the economic prospects for Eurocentric arts institutions are grim. This is the viability rationale.
- The second is that historically those same Eurocentric institutions have received the lion’s share (more realistically, the brontosaurus’s share) of society’s cultural resources. It is becoming increasingly difficult to justify that. This is the morality rationale.
Like any good retired college professor, my immediate response to the question is that there is no one correct answer. More to the point, the issues are not separate ones. They are simply different aspects of the same underlying issue, the end of European cultural hegemony (yes, I’ve already reminded you I was a professor) in U.S. society. In truth, they are both viability arguments.
Fundamentally, it doesn’t matter which argument is more meaningful to you. They both represent existential threats. And in each case the only practical solution is deep, meaningful engagement with new communities.